The neo-synth pop group from London called Bastille started as singer and songwriter Dan Smith’s solo project. In 2010, Dan Smith was joined by Chris 'Woody' Wood, Will Farquarson and Kyle Simmons, the drummist, guitarist and keyboardist, respectively. Bastille gained attention as they self-produced and uploaded two EP’s online. Soon enough, they were playing at major U.K. festivals like Glastonbury and Isle of Wight. Their debut album, Bad Blood, was released last spring and has brought them to the U.S.
Nearing the end of their first North American tour, Dan Smith and Kyle Simmons from Bastille sat down to talk to us about their college days, music tastes and all sorts of tour experiences before their show on Sunday at Union Transfer.
Street: How did you get started playing music? Dan Smith: I’d been playing for a few years and then I met Will and Woody and we started playing together and then we got Kyle involved a bit sort of end of 2010. We started practicing as a band and we started touring. It’s kind of gone from there.
Street: What were you both doing when you were 18? DS: I would’ve been in my first year of uni. I started uni straight out of school. I went to uni in Leeds, which is the same place Kyle went to.
Kyle Simmons: Dan was the year above but we hadn’t met until we came back. Through mutual friends from Leeds is how I met Dan but we were in London at that point.
DS: we both had very good shows in the student stations and stuff
Street: What were you both studying in university? DS: I did English literature
DS: I did music theory
Street: What would you be doing if you hadn’t gone into music? DS: I wanted to be a film director but I’m probably too lazy to actually achieve it. I’d be doing some terrible boring job. Not necessarily terrible but probably boring. I’d have a boss being like, “cut your fucking hair.”
Street: How do you guys prepare for a gig? KS: There’s nothing really major we do. We have like a bunch of vocal warmups and stuff that we have to do. We listen to a bit of music and try to get a bit hyped up, I suppose.
DS: When we started touring loads, we started to lose our voices a bit so we went and saw this woman who told us to like do some warmups. I guess we do them before every gig and to anyone else that would seem like a weird ritual because they’re super embarrassing.
KS: Like really. Really weird.
DS: Like the least cool thing in the world. We felt really self-conscious about them and then we did this tour early in the year with a couple of quite big rock bands and we heard one of the rock bands like before they went on doing even more embarrassing ones. We were suddenly like, “Ah, it’s alright then”.
Street: Who would you name as inspirational musicians – or anyone who’s really shaped your music? DS: Probably everything has shaped. Everything that I like and listen to and watch and stuff has shaped our songs.
KS: As well, because we’re not stuck in one particular genre—because the music, what we hope is so broad and the reason for that is that the influences are just infinite. There’s like “Overjoyed” which is like minimal electronic sort of stuff and like “Things We Lost” which is like strings and more organic sounds and stuff. It’s always hard to answer that question just because there’s clearly a lot of influences just throughout.
DS: From like hip-hop to film soundtrack and scores to like indie bands and pop music—you know…
Street: That’s definitely noticeable throughout the album, Bad Blood. Every song is so unique whereas a lot of bands get stuck doing the same songs over and over. DS: Like from a few years ago, there’s like the xx’s album or Vampire Weekend album—well their first album was amazing because they have like palette of sounds that they use and they just have like a collection of amazing songs so it doesn’t matter… I think we almost thing in the opposite way. We’re kind of like, from song to song, “what else can we use? What haven’t we used before?” We’re not four guys who do just one thing on one instrument. We work out different songs on different instrumentations. I think we’ve always wanted to change things up from time to time and keep it interesting for ourselves.
Street: What are you guys currently listening to, like, what’s playing on your iPod? KS: I listen to mainly sort of like producer stuff like James Blake and a producer duo called Bondax and like Snakehips, another producer. That’s it really.
DS: Loads of stuff. Like, James Blake as well, Haim, CHVRCHES, Everything Everything, Loads of new music like the new Vampire Weekend album, new Kanye West album—loads of new stuff.
Street: We recently heard your cover of Frank Ocean’s “Thinking About You.” Do you enjoy doing covers from all sorts of genres? DS: Yeah, I think it’s fun to do. A lot of the songs we cover are a lot of the songs we don’t necessarily like listen to all of the time.
KS: Except for the Frank Ocean one.
DS: Well, that one was just one song that I love. If someone else were doing a Frank Ocean cover, I’d probably be like “Uhh—don’t go there. Don’t do it.” So I don’t know why the hell we did. I just absolutely love that song. We’ve been singing it all the time and we were doing this mix thing so we just wanted to do it.
Street: Do you guys have any weird stories from being on tour in the US? DS: We had a crazy awesome tour bus driver who wore dungarees and had a dog on the bus who had a matching bandana to him. He used to talk to it all the time.
KS: But like talk to it like a person like he was responding. It was there for like 4 days in a row just driving. He was a nutcase. It was wicked. It was so funny but we were all in great danger.
DS: There were gunshot shell holes inside of the van from being shot at by a passerby. That was pretty nuts.
Street: How have you guys liked being in the US? DS: We’ve had a great time in America, to be honest. Everyone’s been so nice. It’s a bigger scene.
KS: Yeah, like fans are willing to travel a hell of a lot further to come and see you like wherever you might be – which is amazing. It’s really nice to know that they care that much.
DS: Obviously, it’s just so much bigger than England. You can drive across England in the same time it takes you to drive across one state. So, it’s very different. We were saying how sorry we feel for American bands who come to England and tour England. It’s like such a letdown.
KS: The venues, even, as well. All the venues we’ve played here are just amazing.
DS (pointing to the stage room at Union Transfer): That room is massive.
KS: Imagine going to England and playing at all the shitholes we played in.
Street: Any advice for Penn students wanting to start a band or breaking into the industry? DS: Don’t do it.
KS: Don’t do it. Be prepared to be let down massively and a lot. To get to this point, which isn’t even that far up, we’ve been the luckiest people in the world to even have got here.
DS: I think it’s important to write a lot of songs and write songs you think people will like regardless of what genre you’re in. Not in terms of compromising your songwriting—you should always write what you want to but I think the most important thing is to have good songs, for me. You hear a band do a wicked sound and you think they’re so good but they just don’t have any songs that you can latch into. That’s the most frustrating thing in the world.
KS: The song is like the beginning… if that isn’t right then… Like if you’re building a house, you wouldn’t start with a broken brick, would you? It’s a bit of a gay metaphor but shit I just used it. That’s the foundation so you have to make sure that that’s good. And don’t be afraid to go back and change stuff. Don’t get attached to a song. Well, I know Dan will sit on songs for months and then show it to us and we’re like “wow that’s amazing” and then go back and change the chorus and we’re like “why have you done that?” and then “oh I get it. Ok.”
DS: That and practice your instruments because I don’t.
KS: Be good. Be really good. That’s the advice. Just be really good.
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